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New Year’s Resolution, The Digital Kind

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If 2018 had to teach you one thing, it should be that a lot of big technology companies cannot be trusted with your personal data. Whilst you maythink that volunteering your personal data is no big deal, think why companies like Facebook and Google are hell-bent on collecting as much dataabout you as they could. Remember, if your personal data is not that important, then why are Facebook and Google releasing free, addictingproducts and services with the sole objective of hooking you in and collecting your data? Whilst you may think that there is no harm volunteeringyour data to these companies, but the way they try to control you by manipulating what you see on your timeline and search results, not to forget,the targeted advertisement that they serve, should be scare you. Yes, you may not notice it, but Facebook and Google are conditioning the wayyou think. So, this 2019, here’s a list of suggestion to limit the reach, the invasion of your privacy, by these companies.

Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, Onavo, etc.
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There really is nothing good coming from Facebook. 2018 just showed us how much harm it could do?—?the data breaches, data sharing, manipulation, and biased content-moderation, or the lack of it?—?is just the start. Facebook promised a lot of things, but until they change their business model of collecting personal data (which I highly doubt they would), they’re just that?—?empty promises. Don’t believe anything they say, as they’ve been saying this from the start. Their apology-non-apology has been repeated too many times, and yet, you still fall for it! Time to say NO MORE.

Ditching Facebook, and all its other products, may be difficult, at first, but it is not impossible. To start, you need to request for a copy of all your data. Mind you, Facebook will only give you what you volunteered, not what it collected from other sources, online and offline (they buy data from data brokers that collect data from retailers, among others). It takes a day, or more, depending on how much data you have, to generate your data archive.

Whilst waiting for the archive, de-link third-party applications from Facebook. There are online services that provide Facebook login disguised as a convenient way for you to login without re-entering your username password, once you are logged in to Facebook, of course. Convenient? True. It also gives feedback to Facebook (yes, it helps Facebook track you!). Remove these third-party applications. Unfortunately, there are applications, like Looloo.com, that only supports Facebook login. (Yes, I am still waiting for hello@looloo.com to respond to my request for all my data you have collected on me, under the Data Privacy Law).

After de-linking, inform all your friends that you are leaving, and ask them give you their preferred e-mail and/or mobile phone numbers to keep in touch. This is a fun test to see who really cares about you.

Once you have downloaded your data archive, delete your account from all Facebook services. You have the option of deactivating it temporarily, but I’d say go delete it, so you won’t be tempted to return. Go cold turkey, you can do it!

Are there alternatives?

Yes, of course. Keeping in touch with your friends and family can be done via iMessage or Wire, no need to broadcast every detail of your life for everyone to see (believe me, most of them don’t care!), but if you do, I’d say blog about it.

Groups? This is what mailing lists is for, without the profiling, data collection and advertisements.

Sharing photos? I’d say this year, you should re-think how you post photos, specially of yourself, family and friends. Posting photos for public consumption is highly risky, specially now that there are AI (yes artificial intelligence) powered off-the-shelf software that can super-impose your face on compromising videos, and release it to destroy you, or worse, your kids! These software needs a hundred or so photos of your face (or your kid’s face) as input, along with whatever video they want, to generate their target output. This is called deepfake video!

Share your photos privately! You can use iCloud Photo sharing, specially if most of your family and friends are on iOS and OS X. You can share it with non-iOS or non-OS X users, too. For a more cross-platform photo sharing site that preserves your photo, and secures it with encryption, use https://Textile.Photos.

If you want to share your photos to the public, don’t share it for the Likes (which is what instagram is all about, and mostly the Likes are superficial), but share it to get constructive criticisms, when possible from experts. Flickr.com is a perfect site to use for this.

Google
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Like Facebook, Google has a long line up of products designed to collect your data. And like Facebook, Google manipulates you via their search results and advertisements.

Ditch Google! Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, specially if you use Android. Android is Google’s ultimate data collection platform. Don’t be duped that it is an open platform, it is not. The only thing open is the underlying operating system, Android (Android Open Source Project AOSP). All Google services are proprietary, starting with the Play Services/Play Store, which is where all things start. Unless you can afford not to run Android, you are stuck, and Google thanks you for your data.

Google Search is easier to remove, as there are alternatives that provide you with non-personalized, non-manipulative search results. I prefer Duckduckgo.com, but there are others, too. It is best to change the default search engine on your browsers.

Google Mail or GMail might be more difficult to remove from your system. Whilst Google pledged that they will no longer use Gmail for their advertisement targeting, those additional novelty-like features, such as suggested replies, only proves that Google is “reading” your e-mail, even before you send them. Well, e-mail is not private to start with, but then again, you expect it to not be public either (like the original telegram). There are alternatives that you can use in lieu of Gmail, and I prefer using https://ProtonMail.chand https://runbox.com(I used to have email provided by https://fastmail.fm,but after the new Australian legislation on encryption, I transferred).

Transferring GMail requires a whole lot more steps compared to Facebook. For one thing, you need to inform all your contacts of your new e-mail address. Second, you need to change all your online services to reflect the new address. And lastly, transfer your old e-mail from GMail to the new service. In my case, I deleted a whole lot of old e-mail, and archived a few, before transferring them. I used Mac OS X Mail client to connect to GMail (via IMAP) and to the new e-mail service, then I clicked and drag from one mail service to the other to transfer it. BEFORE you delete your GMail account, set it up to forward e-mail (and auto-delete it from GMail), to catch those contacts that have not been updated with your new e-mail. Don’t forget to finally delete your GMail account.

Google Maps is not being used regularly, thank goodness. If you can live with using alternatives, please do. I rarely use Google Maps.

Stop using Chrome as your browser, and stop using Google’s free DNS, too. Like Android, Google uses these as data collectors, too.

Google will tell you that they respect your privacy, but like Facebook, take it with a grain of salt.

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Now that you have done the above, even at least some of them, you are still not off the hook. Both Google and Facebook have trackers scattered all over the world wide web, including most third-party mobile applications, regardless of mobile platform. With the web, you can employ various ad-tracker blocking software on your browser to protect you. With mobile applications, you need a solution that blocks ad-trackers on the network layer. I use Pi-Hole.net at home, and Windscribe.com VPN with mobile devices?—?both block numerous URLs belonging to trackers from Facebook and Google, and from other companies as well (Adobe, Oracle, Twitter, Yahoo!, etc.). One can’t get enough of these tools to block online tracking!

Deleting the two major surveillance capitalists, Facebook and Google, is not an easy task, but it is the rightthing to do, if not for you, think of your family, specially your kids.

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